Dear Readers: This week I am running topical “Best Of” columns while I’m on book tour, meeting readers of my memoir, “Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things,” which is now out in paperback. I’ll be back next week with more answers and advice directed toward a fresh batch of dilemmas. Today’s topic is “Neighbors.”
Dear Amy: Our next-door neighbor is someone most people would think of as an ornery old man –- who is probably an alcoholic. He rarely acknowledges anyone, drinks and smokes while tinkering in his garage every day and does things like keeping the kids’ soccer balls when they land in his yard until a parent comes to retrieve it with the child.
We ignore his alcohol breath and unpleasant personality and have a civil relationship with him. We have taught our children to be respectful no matter how much they dislike him (unlike some others in the neighborhood).
He has been a good neighbor by informing us when our garage door is open late at night, our outdoor pipes are leaking or gushing water, etc.
I have asked him for advice on what to do regarding an outdoor household problem, and he has voluntarily fixed it for us with supplies from his garage. He doesn’t stop until it’s done correctly in line with his high standards.
We thank him profusely and have “repaid” him with bottles of good wine, which makes him very happy. Are we being “enablers” by repaying a likely alcoholic with wine?
Dear Enabler: Sidestepping the issue of enabling, I’d like to point out that when you give your neighbor wine, you are providing him with the tools to make him less competent, healthy and (selfishly speaking) less useful to you. If you were really grateful, you could also throw in a carton of smokes, making him happy but decreasing his life span.
There are many ways to thank this good neighbor that don’t involve feeding his addiction – for instance, you could give him a gift card to his favorite hardware store. You could also offer to rake his leaves or shovel the walk this winter. – November 2013
Dear Amy: Each year we host an elegant, upscale fundraiser on our estate for a local nonprofit. One of the major sources of income for this event is the multiple cash bars. We offer a variety of beverages, including fine wines.
For the past two years, one couple (who are close friends, neighbors and business associates) have hosted a “pre-party” at their home, which we, of course, cannot attend due to our preparation obligations. They then arrive late with several other couples in tow.
This year they even arrived with their own wine, which they not only drank but shared with several other couples. I did not learn of their “private bar” until my husband and I walked them out. Near their vehicle was a pile of wine bottles dumped on the lawn. The amount of alcohol from the bottles left lying on our lawn amounted to about $300 to $400 in lost drink ticket sales.
I feel insulted and hurt, and I am stunned by their behavior. Aside from business associations, we see each other often. Am I overreacting? How should we handle this situation?
Dear Wined Out: First, let me thank you for outlining the very essence of the phrase “first-world problem” in this space. And yet, even though your dilemma occurs on an estate and involves fine wine, when you boil it down, this issue simply amounts to people behaving badly and the question of how to respond. And you should respond.
You say, “Daisy and Tom, we found a pile of wine bottles on the lawn near your car, and I think they came from you and your guests. What’s up with that?”
If you’re stunned and disappointed, you should say so. I’m not suggesting that you bill these people for the estimated amount of spilled or drunk wine that might have gone to charity, but the advantage of speaking your own truth, plainly and clearly, is that you give someone who owes you an explanation or apology the opportunity to offer one. And then after you have had your say, you move on. Don’t dwell, punish or gossip. Consider the matter settled.
Next year you might enlist these people to join with you and use their pre-party as an additional fundraiser for the nonprofit. That way, not one drop will be wasted (unlike your guests). – September 2013
Email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.